Monthly Archives: February 2007

You’re The One!

I’ll be on vacation next Sunday and had planned on preaching this sermon. Because of all the excitement this past week, I opted to preach this a week early… with an invitation to join us for the very first Ash Wednesday service.
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“You’re The One”
Scripture Text: II Samuel 12:1-13a

This is one of my most favorite passages of Scripture in the whole Bible.

I like it because it shows how concerned God is about sin, even when we are not… and especially when we have tried to hide our sins. And I especially like this passage because it doesn’t stop there but it gives us an example of how a sinner can get right with God. And the Bible even uses one of my favorite Bible characters… King David.

As the story unfolds throughout Second Samuel, we find Israel’s mighty warrior king, King David, watching in Second Samuel 11:1 as the army rides away into battle. And later on, “one evening” we are told, he gets up from his bed and he’s walking around up on the flat roof of his house. And we are told in chapter eleven, verses two and three, that “From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.”

We find out that her name is Bathsheba, and her husband was named Uriah, who was a Hittite foreigner living in Israel.

For those who may not be familiar with the story, I will give a quick Reader’s Digest style version for you: David looks at her, then David lusts in his heart for her, then David sleeps with her.

She gets pregnant, and David tries to hide what is still a secret, but will soon be known to all… especially her husband Uriah.

So he hatches a plan… He’ll try to ensure the baby is considered to be Uriah’s baby… except that Uriah is one of David’s valiant soldiers… out fighting David’s battles.

So David sends for Uriah trying to get Uriah to go home to his wife……… so that Uriah, and every one else, will think the future baby was conceived when Uriah was home.

So Uriah is summoned back to the capital to meet with the king. They talk, David probes about the battle, as if Uriah were simply home as a randomly picked messenger. And after they talk, David dismisses Uriah to go home for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

But of course, Uriah is feeling so guilty that his friends and neighbors are out there in the midst of the battle, fighting and dying while he’s at home, that he goes into a time of spiritual fasting and mourning… he sleeps in the street outside the king’s house and doesn’t go home to see his wife.

The next night, David gets him drunk, hoping to trick Uriah to go home and be with his wife, but Uriah’s loyalty, and honesty, as one of David’s valiant & faithful fighting men is too strong. Even drunk, this warrior will be true to his word, to his cause. He sleeps at the entrance to the palace… not daring to endulge his personal needs or desires while his fellow soldiers are still suffering and fighting in the battle.

So David decides that the only way to cover this up is to make sure that Uriah dies in battle… which he orders his commander in the field, Joab, to ensure. He writes down his orders and seals them and sends them, get this, with Uriah, back to the front lines.

Joab then leads the Israelite troops close to the gates of the city of Rabbah, with Uriah in the front line, and when they get close enough the defenders of Rabbah start shooting arrows and Uriah is killed… and Scripture tells us that other soldiers were killed as well.

After the appropriate mourning period for a wife to mourn her dead husband, David, the kind and compassionate king, the caring and concerned neighbor, consoles the forlorn widow and takes her in as one of his own. And makes her his wife. The baby is born. Noone knows about his sin. The secret is safe.

And that brings us to the passage of Scripture for today: Let’s pick up the story in verse 26 of Second Samuel chapter 11…

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II Samuel 11:26-12:13
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.
12:1 The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ “
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

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You see, sin never gets hidden from God, does it?

It’s sort of like squeezing a toothpaste tube until it’s empty. It’s easy to get the toothpaste out of the tube and it’s easy to keep squirting the toothpaste out of the tube… But you can’t undo the actions so easily. The toothpaste doesn’t ever go back into the tube.

It’s the same way with sin. It’s easy to sin, but then in an effort to cover that sin, you have to lie, and then sin some more , and then more and more and more. And even then sin doesn’t really get covered up and never really goes away.

I like that spot where the chapter changes… did you catch it in the tail end of verse 27 in chapter eleven and the beginning of verse one in chapter twelve…?
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11:27 “and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. 12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David.”
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God always sees our sin. Even when we try to cover it up. And it ALWAYS displeases Him. But Scripture doesn’t just stop with a sinner and an angry God… God always tries to bring the sinner back.

With David, it takes the prophet Nathan and a parable. Nathan is the one God uses to expose David’s sin…

And we are read in verse 13 the following sentence:
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12:13 “Then David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD.”
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“I HAVE SINNED…” he cries out… and not just sinned against Bathsheba, or Uriah, or the other Israelite soldiers, but he admits that He has sinned against GOD!

I want to suggest that we can learn something here this morning from David’s sin, as well as his repentance.

First of all, I want to point out some less obvious sins that David committed, because he isn’t just repenting from having sex with a woman he’s not married to. His sin goes deeper than that… In the heart.

David’s sin was more than adultery, more than murder…
Look at chapter eleven, verse one with me:
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“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.”
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and then verse two tells us:

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“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…”
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That line in there that tells us what time of year it was is a real clue to David’s sins within his heart… “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” and the problem… David’s first mistake in this whole story: “But David remained in Jerusalem.”

If the kings went out to war, then why was the king at home looking at something he shouldn’t have been seeing to start with? David was not where he was supposed to be…

He set himself up to be tempted by something he should never have even been there to see.

How many of us, find ourselves in that same situation?

We find ourselves faced with temptations that seem greater than we can handle and we fall? And later, with 20/20 hindsight we realize that if we only had done this or done that then we never would have fallen… because we never would have even been tempted.

David’s second heart mistake was of course the sexual sin with Bathsheba but he sins again when he realizes that there will be some long term consequences of that sin… namely a child.

He sins by not turning to God right then and there and decides to hide his sin. Sort of like Adam and Eve in the garden trying to hide their nakedness from God. David’s attempts at hiding sin fails just as much as Adam and Eve’s did.

You know, God gave David time to repent and acknowledge his sin and change his ways … and his heart. God gave David time to repent on his own without anyone else having to know. But David clung to his sin and stuck with his attempts at hiding sin. And God finally sent Nathan, the prophet, to expose David’s heart sins.

God does the same thing with us… He gives us time to repent on our own. That’s what he gives us a conscience for. To make us recognize guilt in order that we may have a chance to repent and get right with our God and be guilt free.

Only when that doesn’t work, and we stubbornly refuse to repent and turn to God does he have to expose our sin.

And even then, like David, he tries to expose them to us… not everyone else. In fact, we are never told that God exposed David’s many sins to anyone else. Because David turned to God and God didn’t have to use that tool in order to try and get David to repent and get right with him.

David didn’t get it when Bathsheba got pregnant, nor when his attempts to make Uriah look like the father failed. It wasn’t until Nathan came along that David repented.

Be warned!

If you are trying to hide sin, God will try to get you to repent of your sin. He’ll give you time. He’ll give you things to do that will keep you away from temptation to start with. If necessary he’ll send other people to help you see. And, ultimately, if necessary, he will expose your sins, and your hardness of heart for all the world to see, all to try to get you to repent.

And I like the way this story, more than most others, so clearly show us how to repent and get right with God…even after we’ve sinned. Even the BAD sins.

Just do like David did…

Admit you have sinned like David did in II Samuel 12:13.

And pray to God for forgiveness… like David did in that Psalm we read together this morning, the very Psalm David wrote after his sin was exposed by Nathan.

Pray for mercy.

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Psalm 51:1-2

“Have mercy on me, O God, … blot out my transgressions…Wash me…. and cleanse me from my sin!”
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And David’s heart cry, upon receiving that forgiveness is found in verses 10 through 12:

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Psalm 51:10-12

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
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David cries out to God for pardon, for forgiveness… and then, knowing his own heart, and the way it is so easy for his heart to sin… David cries out to God for a new, pure and clean and changed heart.

Respond to God when he tries to lead you to repentance… He tries to expose your sins to you personally with his Holy Spirit and your conscience, but he’s is willing to use other people to reveal your sinfulness to you if needed…. or if that doesn’t work, to make you face your sin by exposing your sin publicly.

And that repentance He desires, is that same kind of repentance that David showed us: admit that you are a sinner, ask God for forgiveness, ask him to help change you, and then, Go and sin no more.

Let’s take a moment and pray, shall we…?

Ask God to forgive you of any sin you’ve been hiding.

Maybe you don’t remember any sin… GOOD! Ask God to reveal any unconfessed sin to you… to remind you of those things that you might have hidden so well that you don’t remember them anymore… but yet, they still stand between you and God’s best plan for you… and you can’t go on with God until you’re right with God… Ask him to expose your sin so that you can repent.

If neither of those situations are you, then you pray for your spouse, your family, your friends… you can even pray for your preacher… who is just as susceptible to sin as David was.

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Feeling Indigo… (AKA Not Quite Feeling Blue)

OK I guess I need to give an explanation about my last post.

After the shock of receiving the news of a fellow pastor’s death from suicide, I spent a lot of time thinking about what leads people to make that decision. For many, depression is a cause. Because of my time with depression, I realized that it has been the grace of God that has helped me through these darker times… because I’ve never considered suicide and cannot ever imagine any reason to consider it. And now that I am well on my way to healing… and very seldom experience the despair I once lived with… I believe I have even less chance of risk in this area.

But I also realized that there are many others (pastors and non-clergy alike) who do struggle with depression and are at risk. And I hoped that by sharing my story of how God has led me to sources of help and hope in the lifting of my depression, that perhaps someone might also have a chance to see that there IS hope! Because there IS help!

Unfortunately, some who read my post thought I was trying to give a ‘cry for help.’ I am honored and awed by the folks who’ve read my post and then have called to see if I’m OK. One even called my district superintendent to see if they should be worried about me. (Truthfully, I hadn’t even realized that so many read my blog!)
So, to summarize: I’m not feeling as blue as I used to. I’m a shade or two away from blue nowadays (thus the ‘indigo’ in my title of this posting!!) And you’ve proven my point that God really has surrounded me with some GREAT people who DO care. THANKS!!!

MEANWHILE…
On the way home from the funeral today, I was in an accident. I think it was my fault… but I don’t know. Either I fell asleep for a moment or I blacked out for a moment, but I crossed the center line and struck another car head-on, nicking the headlight of a parked truck while I was at it. I can remember the ‘crash’ part of it as the airbag deployed. NOTHING before that (other than driving down the road). For several minutes I just sort of sat there dazed… unable to think of what I was supposed to do next. Then, with help from someone outside, we got my door open and I got out.

We all walked away from the experience and, other than seat belt strain and bruising, I think I’m physically fine. Much better than the cars I’m afraid. My van (the one I just got after I was rear-ended by someone else in October, just a few months ago) is probably totaled. I’m certain the little red car I hit is a loss as well. The parked truck should be ok… with a bit of help.

Mostly, I feel embarrassed. And grateful that no one was hurt.

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Feeling Blue…

News of an area pastor committing suicide has reached us and it feels like my world has been rocked… again.

While I knew this particular pastor, I didn’t really know his situation, nor his struggles… whatever they might have been. I simply knew who he was and appreciated his smile and laughter on the few times he and his wife would join our breakfast group a couple of churches ago. But then I moved, and he retired, and, like so many other pastors, I sort of lost touch.

And I have spent the past eight hours since I heard the news just thinking and meditating, praying and just feeling down… sad… depressed.

While I don’t know his issues, I know mine. And, as the saying goes, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with a severe depression. The therapist I went to called me “high functioning” which I guess meant that you couldn’t really tell from the outside just how depressed I really was. He talked about how people with scores like mine on the Beck Depression Inventory usually find themselves in the hospital ward just to make sure they don’t commit suicide.

I haven’t considered suicide as an option, not back then and not now. There were times when I hurt inside enough that I could understand Jonah’s words when he said, “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than live!” I wouldn’t kill myself… but thought how nice it would be if God decreed that it was my time to go and ‘poof’ I didn’t have to deal with the ‘stuff’ anymore.

There were issues from my childhood, relationships that had never been healed, decisions (and lack of decisions) from college times that have followed me, and then, change and loss… and as a pastor I experience A LOT of change (after all, we move for a living, right!) and there have been A LOT of losses. Loss of financial stability, loss of hope, loss of dreams, loss of friends, loss of stability. And a lot of funerals. Mostly for parishioners, but there have been some family members in there… my Grandpa Mix, Gay’s dad Max, and her Grandma Beryl. And a miscarriage just a year before our son was born. And now-a-days, I understand much better the grief experienced with loss of health as I have gotten my first couple of tastes of arthritis, kidney stones, high blood pressure, gout, and recently, the cancer scare.

There are times when I feel SO alone out here in the hinterlands of rural America. I miss the comraderie and fellowship of having a group of us pastors that got together every week for breakfast. Sometimes it was more of a complaint session, but we could laugh about the messups and discuss what we might be able to do differently in this or that situation. And we weren’t “Rev. This” or “Pastor That.”

That’s why it’s been so important to deliberately seek out friends. People who aren’t reliant on me for their spiritual care. Even when I don’t feel like it, I know that there are times that I need to go to some activity just so that I don’t become too introverted and inward focused. Especially in times when things seem to go wrong with the other Christians one finds in the church… when it’s Christians who seem to be attacking or condemning or complaining. In the same way that our parishioners need to have encouragement, so do us pastors.

Part of my thinking and meditating this afternoon and evening is how far have I come? I feel better (as in better than I used to feel… not that I feel ‘all better’). How have I gotten there? Because I suspect that I’m not the only pastor out there to experience the ‘blues’ or outright depression.

I think the number one thing I did that helped me begin to heal was to find someone who took me seriously that maybe I had something going on. Out of fairness, my wife had said I was depressed and needed to see a counselor for several years, but the defense mechanisms were well oiled that I couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t until my physician, my medical doctor, gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant that I was finally able to start the process.

And even then, I was looking at the need to lose weight, and recognized that I probably needed help to step away from the comfort-food/stress-eating times. He prescibed a low dose of prozac as a way of ‘taking the edge off’ in order to allow me the chance to walk through some of the issues.

It helped… some. It helped me enough to let me see that I was dealing with A LOT of unresolved issues that were weighing heavily on me… not because any of them were super-huge dilemmas, but rather because there was such a vast array of undealt with emotions and unresolved concerns that the sheer volume of them threatened to drown me in a sea of grief.

And it took ALL of my defense mechanisms to ‘stay afloat.’ Thus the comfort foods, etc. (and A LOT of extra weight gain).

That low dose of anti-depressant allowed me to realize that I needed to deal with the ‘stuff’ so I began seeing a counselor, mine happens to be a Christian psychologist, but there are many fine counselors who aren’t Christian and many who come from a community counseling or sociology background rather than the psychology end.

With his help to unpack all the stuff in the closet of my mind and emotional storage center, I have been able to rethink through things that I hadn’t dealt with since I was a kid, or a teen, or a mixed up (often inebriated) college kid… only this time to think them through with an adult perspective and adult coping skills. Those events and feelings and stuff are still there… and always will be… It’s just that before I started this process, it was like they were haunting me and waiting for me from behind some hidden closet door in my mind. Now, after working through this process with medication and a counselor, those thoughts and feelings and memories are being sorted and rearranged and reevaluated and stored in a more orderly, understandable way… Rather than vague memories that haunt and hinder my growth, these rearranged and ordered thoughts and feelings can now serve as tools that help me find strength of character as I face the still unknown future.

Somewhere in the process, with the help of the counselor and the medicine, I began to be able to focus mentally enough again to be able to return to reading. And that, at least for me, has made a world of difference.

Some of the most helpful books have been:

  • Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict, Kenneth C. Haugk, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1988
  • Becoming a Healthier Pastor: Family Systems Theory and the Pastor’s Own Family (Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series), Ronald W. Richardson, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 2004
  • Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack, G. Lloyd Rediger, Westminster John Knox Press: 1997
  • Coping With Depression, Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg, Baker Books: 2004
  • Pastors in Pain, Gary D. Preston, Baker Books: 2005
  • The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Guy Greenfield, Baker Books: 2001
  • The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, Henri Nouwen, Image (reissue): 1979
  • The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way, Gary Chapman, Moody: 1999
  • They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century, Lynn Anderson, Howard Books: 2002
  • Walking Through The Valley: Understanding and Emerging from Clergy Depression, Robert L. Randall, Abingdon Press: 1998.

Of course, there have been other books… some light easy to read books and some theological wonders… along with some C.S. Lewis and some J.R.R. Tolkein. But these were the biggies.

I have had to have my medication increased several times… I’m a big guy and it took a lot. I had to see my counselor pretty often there for awhile. But now, two and a half years later, along with some other healthier choices and a very understanding district superintendent that I’ve been able to be very honest with, I see my counselor only once in a while and am on the very lowest possible medicine dosage again.

Ultimately, it’s my wife that’s probably helped me the most… despite the times when I have all of the defenses going, thinking I’m being self-protective, it’s usually my wife that alerts me when I’m starting to bottle things up and keep my feelings inside… and that’s when I start to get ‘sicker’ with this depression. When she says she doesn’t know what’s going on inside of me, it’s a red flag that I’ve been keeping it all in too much.

I am not completely healed. I still need a lot of healing and help. But as long as I don’t isolate and allow myself to try and be some kind of a lone ranger, there’s hope ahead for me.

And I don’t believe I’m alone in the pastoral ranks in this realm either. Catch the words of Charles Wesley’s song from 1749 about the Methodist pastors who would come together in conference once a year…

1. And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus’ praise we join, and in his sight appear.
3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within,since we assembled last!
4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain, and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/hymns/umh553.stm

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